How to identify & treat separation anxiety in dogs

Liam Beauchamp

As much as we’d love to spend every moment with our dogs, there are times when we need to leave our trusted companions home alone. Whether it’s to pop to the shops or spend a few hours in the office, having to look into their adorable eyes and let them know you’ll “be back soon” is never easy…

In fact, for owners of dogs with separation anxiety, it's almost impossible.  

If you worry your dog is distressed every time you leave the house, help is at hand — expert help! We’ve turned to the registered veterinary nurses at our dedicated Vet Advice Line and asked them to share their expertise. From diagnosing and dealing with separation anxiety in dogs to how caring pet sitters can help worried pups while owners are away, here’s what the veterinary professionals have to say:

Separation anxiety in dogs: what the veterinary experts say

Historically, dogs have always lived in packs or family settings, and so are very sociable animals. Whether they crave the companionship of humans or fellow furry friends, almost all dogs prefer not to be left alone over long periods of time.

Most dogs should cope with being left for a few hours, particularly if they have experienced this from a young age. If they cannot cope with a short amount of time on their own, then it’s likely your dog has separation anxiety.

The signs of separation anxiety in dogs 

If your dog displays any of the following behaviours, then they may be suffering from dog anxiety:

  • They follow you around the home and become anxious when they cannot see you
  • They become distressed when you prepare to leave the house
  • They are elated when you return home
  • If being on their own induces any of the following physiological symptoms:

Drinking excessively 
Increased heart rate
Increased respiration rate and needing to go to the toilet

What is the best dog anxiety treatment? 

There’s no quick fix or one-size-fits-all dog anxiety treatment. It will simply take time, patience and training.

Here are some simple but effective steps to dog separation anxiety training:

Step one: Create a safe space for your dog

The first step is to establish a safe space. This could be somewhere like the kitchen or the utility room, and then use stair gates to create clear barriers that the dog can still see through. If your dog already has a safe space they can relax in, like their much-loved crate, then use this area instead. However, please bear in mind, if your dog hasn’t been crate trained then introducing one at this stage may cause more stress.

Step two: Add your dog’s creature comforts

Make sure that the safe space contains a comfortable bed, water, and food. Also, if your dog likes to chew, then be sure they do not have access to unsafe items.

There are a few things you can do to give your dog an added sense of security in their safe space. For example, leaving something in the area that smells of you and also using pet home scents dedicated to reducing anxiety in animals, such as an ADAPTIL diffuser. To keep your pets company, you can also turn on the radio.

Step three: Separate, slowly and steadily

The next step is to spend a few days at home dedicated to separation anxiety training with your dog.

Throughout the first day, randomly put your pooch in their safe space. Leave them with a chew or a treat-filled toy — the act of chewing can help to calm dogs down — and then go about your business while remaining relatively close so your dog can still see you. After a few minutes, you can open the gate, leaving it up to your dog to decide whether or not they want to leave their safe space.

Step four: Keep going until you can go

Repeat this over the next few days, gradually increasing the length of time you leave your dog in their safe space. You can then begin to leave your dog’s sight and, eventually, you should be able to leave the house with the peace of mind your pooch is happy at home in their safe space.

A travel tip for owners of anxious dogs

If your pet suffers from separation anxiety or has recently overcome the issue, any type of travel may feel like a step too far. However, the members of TrustedHousesitters offer a pet care solution that’s perfect for special pooches like yours.  

The pet-loving people who join the community sit purely for the love of animals, and so don’t charge to look after your furry loved ones. Coming to your home, your chosen pet sitter will keep your dog company in their safe space and make sure they’re not worried while you're away. And if your dog’s not worrying while you’re away, you can finally travel without worrying either.

Want to know more about how this caring community can help your worried pooch while you’re away? Take a look to see how pet sitting works.

More questions about handling separation anxiety in dogs?

Still worried about dog anxiety or want to discuss a dog in your care? Or maybe there’s another animal behavioural issue or medical matter you’d like help with. Whatever your concern, our members can call the experts at Vet Advice Line for free, day or night, on +44 (0) 203 4740753.

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